Sometimes, on a rainy day, when a predator is at bay, or if they want to migrate away, spiders whip out their silk, and balloon away. “Ballooning” has been a mystery for over a century already and now scientists are finally beginning to understand it.
Charles Darwin started being curious about how these wingless spiders can fly so far when he found thousands of them on the deck of the HMS Beagle ship on October 31, 1832. The ship was 60 miles offshore, which means the spiders must have floated over from the Argentinian mainland. These tiny red spiders, each a millimetre wide, were spotted all over the ship. “All the ropes were coated and fringed with gossamer web,” wrote Darwin.
What Is Ballooning?
Even though spiders have no wings they can still take to the air and fly away. Spiders have even been found two and a half miles up in the air and 1,000 miles out to sea. How do they do this? By ballooning. Ballooning is the behavior in which a spider climbs to an exposed point, raise their abdomens to the sky, extrude strands of silk, and float away.
It was believed that ballooning worked because the silk catches wind, dragging the spider with it. Although since spiders only balloon during light winds, that doesn’t make much sense. Some spiders are quite large, therefore it seems unlikely that such a light breeze could be strong enough to carry them aloft, or to generate the high accelerations of arachnid takeoff. Darwin found the speed of the spiders’ travel to be “quite unaccountable” and its cause to be “inexplicable.”
How Does Ballooning Work?
A duo from the University of Bristol, Erica Morley and Daniel Robert, have figured out the mystery of how ballooning really works. They discovered that spiders can actually sense the Earth’s electric field, and use it to launch themselves into the air. What’s impressive, is that the electric fields can even provide them with a lift without the slightest breeze.
Where Does The Electricity Come From?
The Earth’s atmosphere is basically a giant electrical circuit due to the 40,000 thunderstorms that crackle around the world every single day. These thunderstorms act like a giant battery for the atmosphere, charging up and maintaining the electric fields. Even on sunny, cloudless days, the air still carries around 100 volts for every meter above the ground. On stormy, foggy days, that number rises to tens of thousands of volts per meter. The highest reaches of the Earth’s atmosphere (ionosphere) have a positive charge while the planet’s surface has a negative one.
The ballooning spiders operate within this planetary electric field. The moment their silk leaves their bodies, it picks up a negative charge. The similar negative charges are repelled on the surfaces on which the spiders sit, generating enough force to lift them into the air. Spiders can increase those forces by crawling onto leaves, twigs or even grass. How do they increase those forces by just crawling on plants? Plants have the same negative charge as the ground, but they protrude into the positively charged air causing substantial electric fields between the air around them and the tips of their leaves and branches.
Testing The Spiders
The idea of ballooning behavior caused by electrostatic repulsion was first proposed in the 1800s but was dismissed without being tested. Then in 2013 the idea was brought back to life by a physicist, Peter Gorham, who showed that it was mathematically plausible. Now most recently, Morley and Robert were interested to see if the spiders actually responded to the electric fields and their fluctuations, so they tested it with actual spiders.
In order to show that the spiders can detect electric fields they put them on vertical strips of cardboard in the center of a plastic box, then generated electric fields between the floor and ceiling. They generated similar strengths of electricity to what the spiders would naturally experience outdoors. The fields caused tiny sensory hairs on the spiders’ feet to ruffle up. These sensory hairs are called trichobothria, which the researchers believe is what the spiders use to detect electricity. “It’s like when you rub a balloon and hold it up to your hairs,” Morley said.
Once the spiders’ trichobothria were ruffled they performed a set of movements called tiptoeing. Tiptoeing is when the spider stands on the end of their legs and stick their abdomens in the air, which is a behavior only ever seen when ballooning. Despite being in closed boxes with no airflow, many of the spiders managed to take off. But once Morley turned off the electric fields within the boxes, the spiders dropped.
The same hairs that allow spiders to sense electric fields also help them to detect wind speed or direction, so it’s possible that air currents might also play a role in ballooning. Nonetheless, Morley and Robert’s study reveals that electrostatic forces are, on their own, enough to propel spiders into the air.
The researchers published this study in Current Biology.
This article (Spiders Can Use Electricity To Fly Hundreds Of Miles) was originally created for Intelligent Living and is published here under Creative Commons.
Remarkable New T-Cell Discovery Can Kill Several Cancer Types In The Lab
The discovery of a new kind of immune cell receptor could pave the way for a new type of T-cell cancer therapy that can attack a diverse range of cancers in human patients without requiring tailored treatment.
The researchers behind the discovery emphasise that testing is still at an early stage, having been conducted only in mice and in human cells in the lab, not yet in living patients. But the preliminary results are promising, and suggest we could be on the verge of a significant advancement in T-cell therapies.
To understand why, let’s backtrack a little on what T-cells are, and what T-cell therapies do, because they’re still very much an emerging field of treatment in oncology.
T-cells are a type of white blood cell involved in the function of our immune system. When T-cells are activated by coming into contact with defective or foreign cells in the body, they attack them, helping us fight off infection and disease.
In T-cell therapy – the most common form of which is called CAR-T (for Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cells), scientists hijack and augment this natural function of T-cells to steer them towards tumour cells in particular.
In CAR-T treatments, doctors extract T-cells from patients’ blood, genetically engineering them in the lab to make them specifically identify and target cancer cells. The edited T-cells are then multiplied in the lab before being administered to patients.
Some of the limitations of the CAR-T technique are that the edited T-cells are only able to recognise a few kinds of cancer, and the entire therapy needs to be personalised for different people because of a T-cell receptor (TCR) called human leukocyte antigen (HLA).
HLA is what enables T-cells to detect cancer cells, but it varies between individuals. And that’s where this new discovery comes in.
In the new study, led by scientists at Cardiff University in the UK, researchers used CRISPR–Cas9 screening to discover a new kind of TCR in T-cells: a receptor molecule called MR1.
MR1 functions similarly to HLA in terms of scanning and recognising cancer cells, but one big difference is that, unlike HLA, it doesn’t vary in the human population – which means it could potentially form the basis of a T-cell therapy that works for a much broader range of people (in theory, at least).
We’re not there yet; but preliminary experiments in the lab involving MR1 are indeed promising, although we need to be aware that the results need to be replicated safely in clinical trials before we can confirm this is a treatment suitable for humans.
In lab tests using human cells, the MR1-equipped T-cells “killed the multiple cancer cell lines tested (lung, melanoma, leukaemia, colon, breast, prostate, bone and ovarian) that did not share a common HLA,” the authors write in their paper.
Tests upon mice with leukaemia – in which the animals were injected with the MR1 cells – revealed evidence of cancer regression, and led to the mice living longer than controls.
Right now, we don’t yet know how many types of cancers a technique based on this receptor might treat. That said, the early results certainly suggest a diverse range could be susceptible, according to the study.
If these sorts of effects can be replicated in humans – something the scientists hope to begin testing as early as this year – we could be looking at a bright new future for T-cell treatments, experts say.
“This research represents a new way of targeting cancer cells that is really quite exciting, although much more research is needed to understand precisely how it works,” says research and policy director Alasdair Rankin from blood cancer charity Bloodwise, who was not involved in the research.
To that end, the next step for the team – in addition to organising future clinical trials – will be learning more about the mechanisms that enable MR1 to identify cancer cells at a molecular level.
There’s a lot more to learn here before we can truly proclaim this is some kind of universal cancer treatment, but there certainly look to be some exciting discoveries on the horizon.
“Cancer-targeting via MR1-restricted T-cells is an exciting new frontier,” says senior researcher and cancer immunotherapy specialist Andrew Sewell.
“It raises the prospect of .. a single type of T-cell that could be capable of destroying many different types of cancers across the population. Previously nobody believed this could be possible.”
The findings are reported in Nature Immunology.
This article (Remarkable New T-Cell Discovery Can Kill Several Cancer Types In The Lab) was originally created for Science Alert and is published here under Creative Commons.
Science Says Silence Is Vital For Our Brains
If you’re the average person, you wake up to the sound of an alarm. That alarm sends you to the bathroom where you quickly get yourself ready for your workday. If you have the time, you might eat something before jumping into your car to listen to music or the radio while you sit in traffic on your way to work.
Once you get there, it’s all people, customers, co-workers, cars, trucks, planes, lawn mowers, construction, phone calls, and tasks for the next 8 hours. These noises that most of us experience in excess send our bodies into stress states, decreasing our quality of life and potentially reducing our lifespan. It appears that noise, in excess, is not healthy for humans. Silence, on the other hand, can have huge benefits, but let’s explore the damage caused by noise before we get to the benefits of silence.
Before we get into the research, I’d like to note that the word ‘noise’ is said to come from the Latin word nausea, or the Latin word noxia, meaning seasickness, sickness, hurt, damage, or injury. Is it any wonder ‘noise’ is not healthy for us?
Outside of your anecdotal reflection, there is scientific evidence that supports the negative effects of noise on our health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) examined and quantified its health burden based on a European study that involved 340 million people living in Western Europe. It found that residents were cumulatively losing about a million years off their lives due to noise every year. That’s like one in every three people losing an entire year off their life due to excessive noise!
A study that was published in 2011 in Psychological Science examined the effects Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Professor Gary W. Evans of Cornell University noted that the children who were exposed to noise developed a stress response that caused them to ignore the noise. These children not only ignored harmful noises, but also regular stimuli that are important to pay attention to like speech. Wonder why people have trouble paying attention these days? Perhaps we are exposed to too much noise and too many sounds.
“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise–even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage–causes stress and is harmful to humans.” – Professor Gary Evans
Going back to anecdotal evidence for a moment, I always find that staying with my friends who live in cities produces a much more uncomfortable situation for myself than when I’m in more quiet situations, or living at my quiet, somewhat isolated home in nature. I always share with friends that the environment of living in a city seems to be unhealthy; not just the air, but the energy, hustle and bustle, and the noise as well. Reading these studies clearly illustrates that it does not appear to be natural or healthy for humans to live or work in loud environments every day.
Noise has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, tinnitus, and loss of sleep. Living in consistently noisy environments will cause you to experience much higher levels of these harmful hormones. Of course, there is something you can do about this should you take action on it, but it requires that–action.
The Benefits of Silence
Again, pointing to anecdotal evidence for a moment, think back to the moments where you were on your own, retreating to the cottage or somewhere else quiet. Did you notice how often you NOTICED the silence? Not only had that, but you likely felt a lot better after 3 or 4 hours of being there.
It isn’t just cleaner air or taking some time away from work, it’s the silence and lack of distraction. This can be observed by playing loud music and partying the entire time at a cottage as well. You’ll realize it isn’t relaxing, but simply another distraction. When you contrast the two different experiences, the benefits become clearer.
An interesting study observed the effects of noise, music, and silence on the brain. The study was published in the journal Heart and found that the two minute pauses randomly placed between the ‘relaxing music’ in the study were far more relaxing for the brain than the relaxing music. The longer the silence, the more benefits experienced by the participants. Study author L. Bernardi found that his ‘irrelevant’ blank pauses were the most important aspects of the study. Silence is heightened by contrast.
What You Can Do & The Takeaway
So, what can you do if you experience a lot of noise and are looking to avoid loud noises or simply take a break? Firstly, the good news is that the brain recovers from too much noise over time. According to the attention restoration theory, the brain’s finite cognitive resources can begin restoring when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input. In silence, the brain essentially lets down its sensory guard and restores some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.
The practical end of this would look like making an extra effort to be or spend time in silence. This means no music, movies, friends, conversations, phone chimes, etc, even if it’s only for 30 minutes or an hour each day.
This silence would not only allow your brain to restore its cognitive functions like creativity, but it can give you the opportunity to disconnect, quiet down and connect with yourself as well.
Years ago, I created a challenge called the 5 Days of You Challenge that’s designed to do just that – help people slow down, reduce noise and distraction, and connect deeper with themselves. Over the years, I have sent 180,000 people through this challenge and it has resulted in an incredible number of positive transformations.
If you’re looking to:
- Clear emotional blocks
- Connect deeply with yourself
- Find more peace in your life
- Develop greater self-awareness and presence
- Slow down and enjoy life more
Then this challenge is something I highly recommend. I’ve made this challenge available to everyone to experience for free. You can check it out on CETV here.
The World Is Getting Increasingly Dumber, Study Finds
And just like that, another sign of the ‘Idiocracy’ apocalypse has emerged.
Tyler Durden, Zero Hedge
Western Europe is home to a cluster of developed economies that boost some of the highest standards of living in the world. But that could soon change. Because as Evan Horowitz writes on NBC News’s new “Think” vertical, IQ scores in France, Scandinavia, Britain, Germany and even Australia are beginning to decline.
The trend has been well-documented across Western Europe, and could soon carry over to the US as well. Which means the data have confirmed what millions of Americans who have watched cable news or logged on to Twitter over the past three years probably already suspected: The world is getting dumber.
And just like that, another sign of the ‘Idiocracy’ apocalypse has emerged. Though, unlike the movie, which posits that the population of Earth will become steadily dumber as stupid people outbreed their more intelligent compatriots, the cause of the trend in Europe has yet to be determined, because even the children of relatively intelligent Europeans are getting dumber.
“Details vary from study to study and from place to place given the available data. IQ shortfalls in Norway and Denmark appear in longstanding tests of military conscripts, whereas information about France is based on a smaller sample and a different test.
But the broad pattern has become clearer: Beginning around the turn of the 21st century, many of the most economically advanced nations began experiencing some kind of decline in IQ.
One potential explanation was quasi-eugenic. As in the movie “Idiocracy,” it was suggested that average intelligence is being pulled down because lower-IQ families are having more children (“dysgenic fertility” is the technical term). Alternatively, widening immigration might be bringing less-intelligent newcomers to societies with otherwise higher IQs.
However, a 2018 study of Norway has punctured these theories by showing that IQs are dropping not just across societies but within families. In other words, the issue is not that educated Norwegians are increasingly outnumbered by lower-IQ immigrants or the children of less-educated citizens. Even children born to high-IQ parents are slipping down the IQ ladder.”
Possible explanations include: The rise of smartphones and other devices, which have worn away at our ability to focus, the rise of lower-skill service work that isn’t as intellectually stimulating and less-nutritious food.
Whatever the cause, the trend seems to portend a decline in long-term productivity and economic success, factors that have long been correlated with IQ.
But for now, at least, readers can find contentment in the knowledge that it’s not just us: Everybody really is getting dumber.
Plant Science Breakthrough Paves The Way To Photosynthesis 2.0
Andrea D. Steffen, Intelligent Living
Biologists unlocked a critical mechanism in plants by solving a complex protein structure. Their discovery could lead to improvements in how photosynthesis works. What that means for the real world are faster-growing plants and higher crop yields that could help better feed the growing population. Not only could it help to feed the world, but it could also be applied to biofuel crops, reducing the amount of land required for both food and carbon-neutral fuel.
As perfect as photosynthesis is already, scientists are still working out ways to make it even better. So now a group of researchers from the University of Sheffield has uncovered new insights into how an electrical, chemical reaction can significantly influence growth in plants. They dubbed the mechanism; the “beating heart” of photosynthesis. The research has been published in Nature.
The chemical reaction occurs in a protein complex called cytochrome b6f. The complex is what powers a plant’s conversion of CO2 into carbohydrates during photosynthesis. This commencement system of cytochrome b6f could ultimately be utilized by plant biologists to improve the powers underlying photosynthesis. In so doing, they’ll be able to create more robust plants, like better rice and wheat.
The team used cryo-electron microscopy to create their high-resolution structural model of the cytochrome b6f. This enabled the scientists to understand the complicated spaghetti-like shape of the protein complex. They were able to see the electrical connections between a duo of light-powered chlorophyll-proteins within these plant cells. These proteins – called Photosystems I and II – are what convert sunlight into chemical energy.
Then they built a model replica of what they saw. In this model, they could see how the cytochrome b6f taps into the electrical currents flowing through it. It draws into it to power-up a proton gradient – something like a natural plant rechargeable battery. You can think of it as a “proton battery.” The cell stores the energy in it, and that energy is then used by the plant to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—which is the energy currency of cells.
Study co-author Matt Johnson explained in an email to Gizmodo:
“The proton gradient acts like a battery that allows for the synthesis of ATP—an essential metabolite needed for CO2 conversion to carbohydrate. We have obtained the structure of the plant cytochrome b6f complex by cryo-electron microscopy, and it shows how it processes its electron-carrying [molecule] in such a way to double the number of protons it moves across the membrane.”
The study’s first author, Lorna Malone, a Ph.D. student at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, said in a statement:
“Ultimately this reaction provides the energy that plants need to turn carbon dioxide into the carbohydrates and biomass that sustain the global food chain.”
This new study is the first to reveal the plant structure of cytochrome b6f, as well as where the action is taking place within this protein complex. It provides new insights into how the mechanism works.
This article (Plant Science Breakthrough Paves The Way To Photosynthesis 2.0) was originally created for Intelligent Living and is published here under Creative Commons.
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